2 Old Shoes (part 2)

I don’t think words in a blog post can properly convey how much I longed to be a worship leader. It was the year 2000 when i realized for the first time that this could be a job that I loved. We had been part of the same church for 11 years and the worship leader at the time left and I felt like this was something I would pursue. Alas, the timing wasn’t right, and the church moved on with someone else. For another 4 years, I burned with a passion to lead worship and actually sent my resume (sparse as it was) to some churches to no avail. Then my opportunity came when the worship leader at the time unexpectedly resigned. My time had come! On my first day of the job, I hit the ground running and I threw myself into the job. I loved going in to work every morning and I honestly didn’t want to leave. I was finally getting the chance to really use my musical gifts and get paid to do it.  It wasn’t a job that made you rich financially, but I didn’t care. I absolutely loved what I got to do everyday, planning worship services, talking theology with the other guys on staff, mentoring young musicians, just everything about it.  

One of my friends on staff used to always talk about this book by John Piper called “Don’t waste your life” and I was mildly interested at the time.  I was reading an author by the name of Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher, which I know sounds like an oxymoron, but it was in reading his works that I started to develop ways of thinking beyond the box of evangelical cliches that I had grown up around.  Reading Willard spurred me on to think deeply about what biblical Christianity was. He passed away about a year ago, and I thank God for him.  Meanwhile, my friend kept bringing up Piper and this other guy he listened to via podcast, which was a new technological phenomena at the time. This other guy was Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Highland Village. You remember from my last post that we are members there, but it’s an interesting journey how we got there. I remember listening to Chandler at my friend’s bequest and actually finding him sort of obnoxious and over the top. The depth of his vocal tone was like Howard Stern, and he seemed to be equally shocking in his content.  This guy was preaching, I mean preaching!  Looking back, I realize how far removed I was from hearing this kind of bold presentation, especially the last few years I worked in the church. I gave him a few listens and just basically wrote it off and went back to reading Willard. 

Around the same time, I was starting to podcast John Piper. I was too busy swimming in the philosophical waters of Willard that I didn’t have time to read Piper. So I listened to his sermons. I was a little put off by his style which reminded me of “old timey” preachers, but in spite of that, I couldn’t dismiss the weightiness of the Word he was preaching, especially when it came to the Sovereignty of God. While all this is going on, I began reading a blog written by an old school friend. This friend was actually the son of a teacher I had in high school who I was basically in awe of and had the deepest respect and admiration for. It seems he was the only one who could ever get me to study and in turn aim to please the teacher.  As a high schooler, I knew this teacher was a Calvinist and I was fascinated to hear him talk about it.  My earliest exposure to Calvinism was a younger child when my parents told me about it. But all I really knew about it was pre-destination, which is pretty much the extent of what every non-calvinist a.k.a Arminian knows about it.  So I began to comment on his blog (my teacher’s son) who was a Calvinist himself and it’s during this period of time that I began to learn of Reformed Theology. I was being bombarded from all sides, blogs, sermons, books, and let me tell you, I argued with him constantly through the comments I made on his posts. But there was something always gnawing at my soul in the debates with him. I was fighting a losing battle because I was trying to argue against something I knew was true. The truth that God is totally Sovereign over everything and does as pleases, and that what ever pleases him is just, right, and true. I began to see that Calvinism or Reformed Theology was not as minimalistic as the TULIP acronym it’s known for, and that there was more at stake than the doctrine of predestination. It was much bigger. We’re talking the Glory of God kind of big.

A friend of mine chided me the other day about being too theological and said that a theologian is something one becomes after he’s saved and the implication was we don’t need theology to become a Christian. As I replied to him, “everyone’s a theologian” in the strictest meaning of the word, and your theology is a determining factor to you becoming saved in the first place, outside of God’s sovereign grace of course. 

Becoming Reformed in my theology wasn’t instantaneous for me.  It was actually the blooming of a seed that was planted in my heart decades earlier. It was no longer synonymous with fancy theological terms like depravity and perseverance of the saints. No, for the first time, I began connecting this theological system to something more familiar to my brain.  The Gospel. 


What we don’t know…

I just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs and it was quite a fascinating read. Fortunately, it was an honest take on Jobs’ life and gave readers an extended glimpse into his soul and what made him tick.
Yes, he was a genius in so many ways. He was also a deeply flawed human being, like we all are. Sadly, there is no evidence that Steve Jobs was a follower of Jesus as all the evidence points to the fact that he was not. In fact, besides his Buddhist beliefs and practices, there’s this insight from Jobs in the midst of his fight with cancer. “Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it’s cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.” Then Isaacson quotes Jobs with this tagline, “Yeah, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone.”

The book also affords details about Jobs’ philosophies and worldview. This blog is not the place to explore them all, but one in particular I find enlightening is his philosophy in the conception and creation of new products. He disavowed market research which seeks to find out what people want in a product, whether that be a computer, music player, or cellphone. Rather, his quest was not to produce a product that people wanted or asked for. His goal was to determine what we, the consumer, wanted before we even knew what we wanted. This idea speaks volumes to his genius as a visionary. But something else struck me. This was a quality that I find very God-like. Although there were dozens of ungodly characteristics that defined Steve Jobs, this one particular quality is one I think brings glory to the Creator of this great inventor.
Jobs’ conviction was that people did not know what they want until he devised a product coupled with intuitive software that would reveal to consumers what they never knew they wanted. Products like the iPod removed the blinding scales from the eyes of future consumers and spawned a new culture as a result.

Often, mainline Christianity paints God as someone who consults market research before He blesses and prospers His children. We hear how God wants to prosper us, in the sense of material luxuries, personal happiness, and fulfillment. So, when life is not going as we hoped, our nature is to blame God and call in to question His unwillingness to grant our desires for a comfortable and painless existence. When our dreams don’t materialize, or we are in the throes of mid-life crisis, we wonder why God didn’t do more to relieve our angst.
But God is not our cosmic butler.  He does not consult Gallup polls to find out what will make us happy. He is not indebted to rain on our famished crops, He is not obliged to cancer-proof our bodies. He does not prosper us according to our definition of prosperity. God is not a mere inventor of human happiness, He is the Visionary of Eternal joy. Foreknowledge is not a crystal ball that equips Him to response, but a ruling scepter by which He sovereignly governs the future. He didn’t merely react to our rebellion, He planned for it from before the foundations of the world. He not only created the Serpent that invaded His holy garden, but He gave him fangs for the expressed purpose of bruising His Son’s heel, the same heel that would crush the Serpent’s head the way God planned.

In a sense, God aims to do the same thing with the Gospel that Steve Jobs did with the iPad. That is to provide something that we could never conceive of, to satisfy a need we were unaware of. Steve Jobs would not allow us to settle for inferior electronics, although most of us would have. Likewise, God will not allow us to settle for inferior glories. He knows that we prefer “making mud-pies in the slums over a holiday at the sea”. (to quote CS Lewis) He knows our heart’s natural desire is to be affirmed, exalted, and appreciated by men. But God’s eternal vision for us has nothing to do with granting us a comfortable life on earth.

He will not let us find satisfaction in His good gifts. He won’t permit us having perfect sex, sports teams that never lose, cars that never malfunction, family members who never die, friends who don’t betray us, or bodies that resist all manners of disease and trauma. He willfully and actively frustrates our good intentions. He regularly thwarts our plans. God is the Visionary that Created us as receptors of His glory. He knows what we ultimately want and will increase our joy for Eternity, even if we don’t know it yet.

God’s choice

IMG_1403 For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. – Jesus (Matthew 5:45 ESV)

On our vacation trip, we witnessed this marvelous image somewhere in Arizona.  There is rain and sun originating from one sky.   I imagine many are scrambling to stay dry while others, miles away, are basking in the sunlight. One sky, two perspectives, on source, one God.

Then on our way home, we saw this.

Rain on the right, rain on the left, smoke from a wildfire in the middle. We prayed the rainclouds would hover over the fire, but as far as we could tell, it never did.

Many questions arise regarding the sovereignty of God. He is powerful enough to create rain, enough rain to flood the entire earth, and certainly enough to douse a fire that is but a tiny candle beneath His feet.  Yet he does not. Not this time.  We believe He's powerful. We believe He's good. We know He's good because these rain clouds are healing someones parched land. We don't know what good, if any, this fire is accomplishing. So far in the distance, we are unable to know if someone is losing their home, their memories. We don't know if a farmer is losing his crop, his business. We also don't know if this fire is sweeping away an unknown pestilence which brings longer term grief. 

We're confident this fire-ravaged land was once the recipient of healing rainwater and sunlight and perhaps the rain soaked land itself once experienced flames.  In this life we may never know what God is accomplishing with this rain and fire.  For eternity, the echoes of "where were you?" might ring as an incessant salve to our souls.  But denying His supreme sovereignty on this side, without the benefit of His vision, is not an option.  Thankfully, mercifully,  I don't have to choose between his sovereignty and His love.  I don't have to choose how God's will is accomplished.  It's God's choice. His alone.